Nate Borger takes a break from building to play with High-5. KATE ALBRIGHT/FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL

Montclair Township Animal Shelter
77 Willow St.
1-4 p.m. daily except Thursday, 1-7 p.m., 973-744-8600

Rescue Rebuild,

Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health Business,

High-5 is curious.

Kitten-sized, but actually a 2-year-old young adult, she bounces into the cat-room-under-construction. She peruses the edges of the room, sniffing everything. She sniffs a hand. 

Then the little smoky domestic shorthair hops up on a bench, and goes inside a cubby to

High-5 has an eye injury, but loves to play. KATE ALBRIGHT/FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL

check it out.

When a feather wand dangles in front of her, she bats it.

High-5 is having a great time — and the playroom is not even finished yet.

Last week, volunteers from Rescue Rebuild hammered and drilled, and built cat shelves, and cubby holes with hammocks for the two cat rooms in the Montclair Township Animal Shelter (MTAS). Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health also assisted with grants, for a total of $20,000 from each organization, to provide all the materials and services to renovate two cat rooms.

Rescue Rebuild is a program that works to renovate animal shelters and pet-friendly spaces in domestic violence shelters.

Renovation began on Jan. 13, and will continue through Feb. 1. The cat rooms opened to the public on Sunday, Jan. 27.

The two rooms at MTAS had been damaged by fire in 2016.  





One of the cat rooms has kennel cages, and the other is a place for what MTAS Director Liz Morgan describes with a laugh as “free-range cats.” The door between them will be often open, and cats will rotate between the two rooms.

In the open room, the cats will prowl, play, interact and be read to by children and special needs readers in the Hands to Paws program.

“There are benches here, where you can sit like human beings, and the cats can sit next to


you and on top of you,” said Morgan. “The kids practice their reading, and the cats like being read to. They settle in and calm down. Some will come out and sit on somebody’s laps.”

And sometimes the kids talk their parents into going home with a cat.

Right now, only kids can read, but Morgan said they hope to expand the program so adults can volunteer too.

Nate Borger and Casey Paholski, both from Pennsylvania, are on the eight-person paid team of Rescue Rebuild. They travel around, building and designing shelters.

“Cats like to get up high, so we’re going to build plenty of shelves and bridges,” said Borger, demonstrating how the two intend to put up a bridge in front of the tall windows on the street, so that cats can look out. Shelves will circle the walls, so cats can go shelf-to-shelf without ever touching the floor, he said.

“There are two ways up and two ways down for everything,” Paholski said. “So no cat can get stuck up there.”

The two rooms can hold about 50 cats, Morgan said. 



Bryna Donnelly founded Rescue Rebuild in 2007. “It was founded very serendipitously,” she explained. She was a college professor teaching genetics, ornithology and molecular ecology at Delaware Valley University in Doylestown, P.A. Friends of hers had gone on vacation and seen a stray dog in West Virginia. Her friends took it to a shelter — that was

Bryna Donnelly, Rescue Rebuild Director. KATE ALBRIGHT/FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL

below any kind of standards, just dogs staked to a piece of rebar, Donnelly said. The friend told her about it and said, “We need to go down there.” She and volunteers began working on it.

“We want to design spaces so that if you bring your 5-year-old in, you wouldn’t need therapy forever. We want the spaces to be very welcoming, and spend time with the dogs and cats and help socialize them, and spend quality time with one another,” said Donnelly.

Today there are 2,500 volunteers, with a crew of very involved 200. The organization’s model is Habitat for Humanity.

“We run about 20 jobs a year,” Donnelly said. “Trying to help people with pets that are in crisis is very big.” 

Most of MTAS cats were in foster care last week while the cat rooms were under construction. High-5 was getting some extra TLC because she had an eye injury and was seeing a specialist. She came from a hoarding situation — which is not, Morgan said, having four or six or even 10. High-5’s house had about 60. High-5 gave a tiny mew and posed for pictures.  

From left, Nate Borger, Bryna Donnelly, Casey Paholski build the cat room. KATE ALBRIGHT/FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL

“Sitting in a cage does not express their inner cat-ness,” Donnelly said. “The more exposure they have during adoption events, interacting with different people, helps socialize them.”

High-5 asked for more pets. She tapped a leg, and pounced on a shoelace. 

“She’s a lunatic. I love her,” said Donnelly.

If you’ve fallen in love with the peppy kitty? Morgan said with a smile, “Come down, give us a call, send a carrier pigeon.”

The Montclair Township Animal Shelter “free range” cat room, before. COURTESY RESCUE REBUILD
The cat room, after its spruce up. KATE ALBRIGHT/FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL